Watched an old NTW rerun of Norm making a roll top desk
The construction is pretty straight forward, but still would require a
lot of man hours to build.
Piece looks good to my untrained eye, but it raises a question.
In this day and age of computers, how would you adapt what is
basically a paper handling operation into an electronic manipulation
The monitor is the biggest issue with a roll top. They tend to sit
higher than the roll top rolls, so with a monitor on the desk, it won't
close. If you accept a smaller monitor or a taller roll top, you might
be able to make use of a roll top as a computer station.
Laptops are another option, but be forewarned that frequent opening and
closing can cause the hinges to wear out faster. Technology isn't
progressing as notably rapidly as it did in the old days, so old machines
tend to hang around longer.
Solve the monitor issue, and the functionality of the pigeon hole system
would still work. There's things like CDs and Flash Drives that ideal
for small storage holes.
"The potential difference between the top and bottom of a tree is the
reason why all trees have to be grounded..." -- Bored Borg on
I have a roll top desk and can't wait to get away from it.
The modern ones are junk. They are set up for a few things and a
computer and CD's. How about drawers - I have a few but most are tiny.
I have a flat screen monitor that fits within and isn't very hot. Monitor is
Consider the depth for an arm reach screen to keep the eyes good. I have a TV
to the right and it is at another depth - eyes re-focus and keep the muscles
Make sure you want one before putting a lot of work into it. Can you replace
what you have or will it hold what you have.
I resemble that.<G>
I've been accused of building stuff like a brick out house, but never
Any desk I'd build would have to have at least a hanging file drawer
on one side with a drawer above.
But like others have pointed out, just can't see how a roll top desk
and current computer hardware are compatible.
So, once you've decided it is worth your trouble:
How about making the monitor that folds up. That is, you attach the
monitor to a solid board, which makes up the worksurface when the
monitor is folded down. The board is attached to two spring loaded
hinges, and some air resistors (important!), and when you use the
monitor, it folds up (and can end up being taller than the roll-up
Then, the front middle drawer would be nothing but a false front,
which folds out of the way when you are using the computer. A height
adjustable keyboard tray, and fold out mouse tray would be in there.
The CPU would be hidden in the drawer sides (make sure there's enough
ventilation, so it doesn't overheat). The other side drawers should
have a pull out scanner, and potentially a pull out printer...
Man, that would be one unique, and nice piece of furniture! (This is
me wishing I had more time...)
Maybe one could make the roll top part of the desk on the lowish side
and hang an LCD monitor on the wall above and in back of it; or else
place it artfully on top of the pigeonhole box. With some care in
design, this may not look too terrible. It would work out nicely for
tall persons, at least, where the usual monitor height on the desk
surface is annoyingly low.
Some laptop designs have much sturdier hinges than others. On my
(work-provided) Thinkpad, I suspect the interconnecting cable between
the halves would fail long before the hinges themselves, which appear to
be machined out of solid metal. Other bits on the machine are somewhat
In my opinion, it makes little if any sense to get a laptop if the only
place you're going to use it is on a single desk. You pay a premium (in
money and in other limitations, like keyboard and screen size) for
portability that doesn't get used. With a laptop, I find the La-Z-Boy
or equivalent makes my favorite "desk."
"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot
Unless the usage is simply visual interaction rather than actual work,
my experience w/ constrained surfaces for computer work stations is
"they suck" (professional, technical term :) ).
There's never enough space to lay out all the necessary paraphernalia
associated w/ actual "work-work".
Additionally, the work surface may be too high for the keyboard and
building in a keyboard drawer may entail much rearranging of the
pedestals, etc., depending on the size of Nahm's desk.
IMO, it's one of those "sounds good but doesn't work so well in
practice" kind of adaptations. OTOH, if the computer is just to surf
the web or such and the idea is to hide it for the most part, it'll
serve that purpose.
Anyway, a viewpoint.
imo, $0.02, ymmv, etc., etc., of course...
You might stroll through some nicer furniture stores. I have seen
several rolltops designed for computer use - some pretty slick
design. Compared to the traditional desk with nooks and storage
drawers, most are a compromise; but you might find some good ideas.
Of course you should take a sketch pad and tape measure just to
irritate the sales crew.
No need to irritate them. You just say that you need to measure for fit (fit
for internal components *and* placement of entire unit). Digital camera
images taken for wife's approval.
It's all in the wording.
Naaaah! You're missing all the fun of woodworking. That's where you modify
as needed to fit your working requirements. My plan would be to design the
desk with enough traditional layout for the work-work paper part of the
equation and then add the integrated computer components. That means a slide
out keyboard (could even slide out from the side of some slot), a slide out
or swing out monitor and the rest of the system is hidden with relatively
easy access to the case for cdrom/dvd use if necessary. Not much else in the
way of access is needed except maybe a USB hub for plugging stuff in and an
easy to reach power switch for turning it all on.
I've long dreamed about building an entire wall unit/desk unit/computer
system integrated setup for myself. Closed up, it would like simple finely
polished, panelled doors. Opened, it would look like the bridge of the most
recent starship Enterprise. The only thing lacking right now is the space to
build it all.
Essentially my point.
_IF_ (the proverbial "big if") there's enough space to handle as large a
workspace around the computer components there's no reason one can't
make it into a rolltop (or anything else, either, for that matter).
I interpreted Lew's query in the roughly equivalent footprint of a
standard rolltop desk which I think is totally inadequate for the purpose.
I built the workstation here using a 7-ft solid-core door as the
starting point for the top (primarily to speed up the process; I was
newly repositioned into being self-employed rather unexpectedly and
hadn't much time to get going on "real" work). I wasn't thinking and by
the time I had the two bases built w/ sufficient room for printer and
set of file drawers in one, the 'puter unit and drawers in another, when
set it up there wasn't but a foot or so between... :( So, 10 years
later, the one base sets point to the end and the other forward...and I
still haven't gotten the drawers built! But, it does have at least
marginally sufficient working surface...
For out right speed in completing the building task, it's tough to
beat a 36" wide solid core door for a desk top and a couple of 2 high
file drawers to rest it on.
Cheap and fast, if you buy the F/Ds from a used office furniture
I had the door from a "couldn't resist" trip to the salvage freight
store one time ($10 for unused exterior oak slab w/ no penetrations) and
built furniture-looking pedestals. Used 3/4 ply instead of panels for
the sides, but has shaped solid base and (nice enough, anyway if
relatively simple) fronts so it does look like a piece of furniture (or
would, anyway, if I had ever finished the drawers and built another
narrow pedestal so both could face the front)... :)
Point I'd make is if you want a rolltop desk, I'd recommend building a
rolltop desk for a desk and use something else as a computer workstation
_unless_ the computer function is a sidelight not the focal point. I
think it's doubtful you'll be completely satisfied w/ the functionality
of the two together for either if it's to be a "real" workstation.
Then again, if there is essentially unlimited room to deepen and
Or, if you want simply the appearance when closed, dispense w/ much of
the normal entrails (but what's the fun of a rolltop w/o all the
cubbyholes, etc.?) as they'll end up getting blocked and not being all
that useful anyway in a conventionally-sized desk.
Again, just some viewpoints/considerations, reject at will... :)
Which is the basic reason I asked question with this thread.
A roll top desk would be, in the words of Norm, "a fun project", but
after it was done, would probably go "wanting" for a job to do in this
day and age.
Maybe a bit of immortality desire hidden in here someplace as in 2110,
someone would say, "Great grandpa built that desk over a hundred years
I know. I alway admired rolltop desks. And in their day, they were a top of
the line workstation. When an inkpot and quill pen were in common use.
I always admired the big dictionary and dictionary stand at use in the
libraries I visited as a youth. I used to run into my jr high library to
look up words all the time. When I got older, I bought a big dictionary and
planned to build a stand for it. I never had the space and then this thing
called the internet came along.
Now if I need to look up a word, definition, etc, I just click onto
It is a lot faster and getting out that old, monster sized dictionary. And
if I should ever build a nice dictionary stand, for nostalgia's sake, it
would still get little use. The online version is much faster and more
convenient to use. Sice it most likely when I need to look up a word, I am
working on the computer anyway.
You snipped the rest of the conversation...
"Yeah, Great Grandpa was a great woodworker. Too bad we never use it now
because wood is only found now in museums. Now, let's fly over to your place
and finish our Zombie Shootout homework programming we were assigned. You
can use the solar powered programming console and I'll use the mind
controlled interface module."
A quick search finds the expected numbers of links -- here's a link to a
compendium of some commercial attempts at solving the problem.
All have (imo) the problems I outlined above of restricted working space
and limited "neatness" of the features for which one admires the rolltop
design in the beginning. I've no really better ideas on how to modify
the idea to not end up w/ what I'd think would be a dissatisfying kludge
that one would probably regret having invested the time into when done.
If I had the room, I'd love a huge old rolltop--we have the old office
desk of wife's grandfather which isn't rolltop but does have lots of
cubbies in one of the pedestals and a (semi-)hidden side-panel area. It
takes up about the only available place and because of the connection,
can't be replaced. A cousin and her husband, both research
medical-professor types found an old barrister's double rolltop I covet
Hah, got you beat speed wise and money wise there. My first unit was a
hollow core door with two stacked on their side milk crates each end. The
door was scrounged from a demo job and the milk crates were $2.29 each from
a local dime store.
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